Wednesday, July 3, 2013

YWCA building, Queen Street

A bit of lost Auckland, via a postcard purchased from overseas. On the back is written:

"This YWCA here is the 2nd largest in the world for business etc. so at least we can have something pretty big in little New Zealand. Hilda."

Thanks to Sandra Coney's 1986 book, Every Girl: A social history of women and the YWCA in Auckland (p. 93) I now know that this image came from 1918, the year the building was completed, and was the first photograph of the building.

The YWCA held a "Ten Day Building Campaign" in 1913, one which raised £15,046 according to the NZ Herald on 16 February 1915. 1915 was when Myers Park was opened, and when the YWCA was offered property at 385 Queen Street, backing onto the new park, for their hostel. The property was purchased for £4,500 and W H Gummer of Hoggard, Prouse and Gummer was commissioned to prepare a design for the new building. The foundation stone was laid in 1917, and the red brick building, one that expressed "dignity, and restraint without weakness, and a certain homeliness of character,"  apparently according to the architect, was opened 31 October 1918.

Mrs Geddes heartily thanked all those present, and all who had contributed to the building fund, for their interest and support. The association, she said, was very proud of its new home, and without doubt it would greatly further the success of the work that was to be undertaken during the coming years. "Some people have said that the building is far too extravagant," said Mrs. Geddes, "but we must have a bright, attractive place, or else the girls will not come to us, for we have to compete with so many outside attractions." 

... Miss Griffin said the new building would be a centre which would radiate influences throughout the entire community. It was large, but contained not one inch of superfluous space. In entering their new home they were entering into the heritage of the faith and work of early members of the association, to whom the speaker paid a tribute of gratitude and appreciation.
NZ Herald 1 November 1918

22 January 1928. James D Richardson photo, ref 4-1916, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

There are beautiful images of the interior of the building in Coney's book. I do recommend that the interested reader hunt down a copy.

With changing times in the 1970s, the YWCA moved away from the business of providing hostels, especially considering the fact that bits of the old building "kept falling off into Myers Park", according to Coney. The 1918 building was sold in 1977, became a hotel, and was finally demolished in 1985.


  1. I'm afraid that is a building I would not campaign for but it did have an interesting history.

  2. Well, I would, but as the architect's granddaughter I am a bit biased. Thanks for recommending Sandra Coney's book, Lisa: I think I'll check it out.

  3. This comment accidentally deleted. From Christopher Thompson:

    "I understand that the impetus for the construction of the Queen Street YWCA - which I recall as a rather handsome building and certainly better than what's replaced it - was the inimitable Elsie M Griffin. Griffin was a student of my great grandfather, Algernon Thomas, professor of natural sciences at Auckland University College who later, I understand, ensured her appointment as a science mistress at Auckland Girls' Grammar (he was also then deputy chair of the Grammar School Board). I recently found a batch of letters from her to him which convey a sense of her idiosyncratic intelligence. In a letter dated 14 June 1912 she describes her employment at the YWCA in Australia:

    'I expect that I have long ago been put in your category of the ungrateful. I was expecting to be back in NZ this year at least for a holiday but I got sent off here instead & to Adelaide for a period so am now hoping to see all my friends again sometime next year. It is quite good to have there photographs up on my mantelpiece where I can see them & think of them very often even though my life now is such a full one I hardly get time to write even to my own family. I expect you will think I am a horrid “suffragette” when I come back. I do all kinds of bold & “unwomanly” things that I never thought of doing twelve months ago & I think it has been good for me. I am a much calmer minded individual than I used to be in many ways.

    I find my scientific training of immense value in this work. In fact at present I am in charge of our Educational department here or rather I should say I have been given a department to develop. I find it fascinating work. At present we are engaged in one of those “blood & thunder” campaigns when we go round with a pistol & demand the dollars. We need a building so badly here that I believe I should be quite equal to even the pistol to get the money. So another of your flock has been perverted from the conventional ways of life.

    We make a great feature of biological science in our educational work, chiefly of course from the domestic science side, though I hope to see Botany, geology on our syllabus before long. We have all kinds of hygiene talks & health talks even at this beginning of things & a rambling club with nature talks.

    In Sydney I got in touch with the biological department slightly & used to go out on the student botany excursions so that I know a wattle when I see one now. I stole a Gingko leaf from the gardens there. I wonder if you have a collection of all the Australian Cycad leaves now. It was of great interest to me to see them all growing after just picture representations. I was always going to write & ask you if I could see the curator of the museum in the gardens there to send you a collection. They only waste I expect as they grow prolifically there. I haven’t had a moment to go to the gardens since I came here in April. Later on, when we’re not so busy I am hoping to.

    I took lectures on social philosophy last year in Sydney & found them fascinating. I haven’t got very much in touch with college life here yet though I have met a great many graduates & undergraduates.

    I often hear about college, chiefly through Miss Beaumont & also about the School. Things are much changed there in every way. I feel as if school teaching days were days of long ago though when I visit schools as I often do the science department is the first thing I look for. Science is just waking up over here & I could get positions twice over as biology mistress. Girls here haven’t taken up the subject much, but are beginning to.'

    A remarkable woman! "

  4. Saddened to see it has been demolished 😥